Currently accessible only through a door within a concrete underpass, between a Pizza Hut and Sainsbury’s car park, lies the remnants of arguably one of the most important heritage sites in England – Merton Priory Chapter House. This hidden Wandle gem is 900 years old, had a role to play in the origin of English Law, and is linked with the likes of King John and Thomas Beckett.
From 1114 until the dissolution in 1538 Merton Priory was one of the country’s biggest and most influential monastic houses. Nothing was left above ground, but during the 1980’s a complete excavation by the Museum of London Archaeology Service revealed extensive foundations, and those of its substantial and historically important Chapter House were preserved under a new main road. It was here that some medieval Kings held privy councils and other significant events (including two coronations), and where the Statutes of Merton, widely regarded as the origin of English law, were drawn up. The Chapter House and surrounding site of Merton Priory is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Lack of resources has meant that the relics with their many archaeological finds have seldom been open to the public, but over the years open days (e.g. “London Open House”), craft demonstrations, drama productions, art exhibitions, popular religious events and many school visits have been held, albeit on a shoestring and in somewhat primitive conditions, by a small but dedicated group of local enthusiasts, which was formalised in 2003 as the Merton Priory Trust. While to date the Chapter House hasn’t been regularly accessible to the public, it has always been an object of great fascination to visitors of all ages and disciplines, local and international alike. All who know it agree it’s an extraordinarily precious survival in the most surreal suburban setting, and that it is clearly high time for a practical project which can give it the public attention it deserves.
The aim of this project is:
• To stabilise and preserve the remains of the Priory
• To enhance their setting and to establish an educational and events centre, including a fragment of the infirmary cloister as a community garden;
• To adapt and extend the existing Chapter House enclosure to create an enclosed space for the presentation and interpretation of the archaeological remains of Merton Priory and the wider site
• To negotiate the return to the Borough of some of the surviving artifacts from various excavations from the Museum of London Archives and display them for the benefit of residents and visitors.
Works are due to begin on site in Spring 2017, until completion of the works later in 2017 the Chapter House will be closed.
A team of volunteers worked alongside Groundwork London to create a fascinating documentary about the history and planned transformation of the Chapter House.
This project is part of the wider Living Wandle Landscape Partnership Scheme, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.